Isa Atakliyan began his career in the Australian jewellery industry in 1980 hand making and selling gold chains in just five designs,
Today his company, Isaac Jewellery, hand manufactures over 500 chain designs as well as an extensive range of bangles, bracelets, pendants, rings, beads and earrings – in gold and sterling silver.
An amazing, but perhaps not altogether surprising, success for a man who started working in the jewellery industry at just eight years of age.
“I have been working in the jewellery industry for 42 years,” says Isa.
“I started off working for my relatives’ jewellery manufacturing business in Turkey during school holidays,” he adds, explaining that the country’s children enjoyed around three-and-a-half months off school each year.
“When I left school at 12 I learnt the jewellery trade and worked two years fulltime for my relatives’ business hand manufacturing jewellery chains, bracelets and bangles.”
Two years later, at just 14 years of age, Isa and his 18-year-old cousin, opened their own chain manufacturing business.
According to Isa, setting up the business at such an early age wasn’t so difficult as Turkey’s jewellery manufacturing/wholesaling process didn’t require a major investment of capital.
“We didn’t need much capital as we didn’t have to purchase any gold,” he explains.
“The wholesalers would give us the gold, tell us what they wanted made and then pay us for our labour.
“They would give us gold every Saturday and we would give them our chains the next Saturday. They would then give us some more gold … In this way we used to make around 3 kilos of chains a week – every week.”
Even now, Isa believes this is the ideal way for the jewellery manufacturing industry to operate as it gives wholesalers/retailers a more realistic view of the “relatively small labour cost” in the jewellery manufacturing process.
“I think every jeweller should work this way. If wholesalers or retailers don’t supply their own gold they think jewellery manufacturers charge too much but the reality is that since the 1980s we have been working for a labor charge or around $4 – $8 per gram of gold.
“It is the cost of gold that makes our labour look expensive.”
Despite Isa’s business success in Turkey he decided to migrate to Australia (where his older brother Aram was already living) when he was 21.
For the first 8 months after his arrival in Sydney, Isa worked as a mechanic – another skill he had picked up at a relatives’ business during his school holidays in Turkey – before finding a job making gold chains at Norman Silver Kay.
Three months later the owner of Norman Silver Kay told Isa that he could no longer afford to keep him as the gold chains weren’t selling well but would nonetheless be happy to lease some of his workshop space to him so that he could work for himself.
Isa and Aram immediately took advantage of this change in fortune and began their chainmaking business – ABJ (Atakliyan Brothers Jewellers) – in the Dymocks Building in George Street in 1980.
The brothers worked well together – Isa (who at that stage couldn’t speak English) concentrated on the manufacturing side of the business while Aram (who had completed high school in Israel and university in England and thus spoke fluent English) concentrated on the sales and marketing side of the business.
“We tested the market and created five chains to begin with,” recalls Isa, “but then we gradually began to create more and more new chain designs as well as bracelets and bangles.”
During the next 20-plus years ABJ product offering grew to include over 1000 gold chains, bracelets and bangles.
Nonetheless at the beginning of 2006, the brothers recognised that the jewellery market was changing and decided to form two separate companies – Aram retained ABJ and Isa established Isaac Jewellery.
Isa says the decision to form separate companies has been extremely positive as the brothers have retained their close family bond but are now also friendly competitors as well.
“It gave me the opportunity to create a totally different business with my wife Annet,” he says.
“We like to create jewellery for the future. We like to follow the market and trends and constantly create new designs as well as new systems for producing them.”
For example, just over two years ago, Isaac Jewellery launched its own branded jewellery collection, Surreal, with the launch of a personalised charm range.
“We wanted to take advantage of the then popularity of charms,” explains Isa.
“A lot of people were making or importing charms and we didn’t want to miss out just because we had never made them before.”
The Surreal personalised jewellery collection, which is made up of handcrafted 9 and 18-carat gold and platinum bracelets, necklets and charms featuring “classic stones and exclusive enamel finishes”, is now selling well in over 130 jewellery stores around Australia but Isa and Annet both stress that Surreal is “much more than just a charm collection”.
“Surreal is a brand,” says Isa.
“Branding requires a lot of capital – it is not like making a new chain, putting it on display and selling it the next day.”
“We launched Surreal with the charm collection as there was a lot of hype surrounding charms and we were already producing bracelets,” adds Annet.
“Charms were simply the stepping stone into branding for us. Thanks to their popularity we now have the foundations of the Surreal brand which we can build on
“Surreal is recognised as a charm brand but in reality we are jewellery brand that happens to make charms.”
The company has already begun expanding the Surreal brand with the launch of several jewellery collections including Circle of Love (gold and diamond pendants and earrings), Paris by Surreal (gold pendant, ring and earrings) and Fibinachi (cube jewellery with color stones and gold charms turned into bracelets and necklets).
Annet says the company will continue to launch more Surreal collections and continue its successful branding strategy with advertising in consumer magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire as well as instore POS brochures and posters.
Meanwhile Isaac Jewellery will also continue to develop the rest of its product range to keep up with changing trends as well and service.
For example, the company has recently added lighter gold chains to its collection.
“When we first started making chains in Australia we were not so worried about their weight as gold was quite cheap,” recalls Isa.
“Today we are trying to reduce the weight of many of our gold chains and are making silver-filled chains as well.”
He says the silver-filled chains look “exactly like nine carat gold but are silver on the inside”.
More notably, the company, which has established its credibility by producing gold chains for all these years, has now begun manufacturing all its 2000 chain designs in 100 percent sterling silver.
“We produce whatever the market wants and needs,” says Isa, “that’s the key to our success.”
Indeed Isaac Jewellery is currently stocked in “most jewellery stores around Australia” and with a staff of 13 in the Sydney office/workshop, Isa and Annet are confidant that they can keep on changing to meet the demands of the ever evolving market.
“We supply the best quality jewellery and service (including laser welding repairs) and stand by it,” says Annet.
“We are a trusted jewellery manufacturer because we are hallmarked so people know they we can fix it if there is a problem. If they buy their jewellery elsewhere where it isn’t hallmarked they can’t track it.
“We try to make the clients happy and to make their clients happy. We have never had a major complaint in 30 years.”